What is an Addiction?
What you THINK it is determines how you treat the problem and the people with the problem!
Definition: Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite often devastating consequences. It results from a complex interplay of biological vulnerability, environmental exposure and developmental factors (brain maturity).
A condition characterized by persistent changes in brain structure and function.
Genetic Makeup: Genetic factors make up from 40-60% of an individual’s vulnerability to addiction, with environmental and developmental variables influencing whether and how particular genes are expressed.
Research has shown that early drug and/or alcohol use significantly increases the probability of an addiction. This is because the brain is still developing and in the process of learning. People with psychiatric disorders have a higher risk of drug abuse and addiction than the general population. These include anxiety, depression, bi-polar and ADHD.
Research continues to improve our understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying drug abuse and addiction. There are over 200 neurotransmitters identified in the brain.
All drugs of abuse directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine… the neurotransmitter that regulates feelings of pleasure… as well as movement, emotion, cognition and motivation. (Limbic System). Over-stimulation of this system produces the euphoric effects sought by people who abuse drugs and teaches them to repeat the behavior.
Our brains are wired to repeat activities that bring us pleasure or reward (eating, having sex) as a way to ensure our survival. Because taking drugs of abuse stimulates the same circuit, our brains urge repetition of the behavior and thus people “learn” to abuse drugs without thinking about it. The brain does not distinguish between healthy learning and pathological learning. These intense impulses can overcome a person’s willful intent not to take drugs, despite catastrophic consequences- which is the essence of drug addiction.
Therefore, even though the initial decision to take drugs is MOSTLY voluntary, once drugs take over, they cause brain changes that acutely IMPAIR a person’s ability to exert SELF-CONTROL. Brain imaging studies of drug-addicted individuals reveal physical change in the brain areas critical to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.
Craving- Compulsion- Continued use in spite of consequences
Source: John P Crum, LCPC, Director, Addiction Treatment Strategies